Fifty. For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

Ecclesiastes 3:1 (ESV)

Today is my last day of freedom (for a while anyway) and this one is hitting harder than all the ones before because I’m coming out of a fantastic summer. That’s why I was thinking about Ecclesiastes today.

I’m passing from one season to another (both literally and figuratively) and it’s scary.

But I want to take some time to praise God for the amazing experiences I had this summer.

First, anyone who knows me knows I love the summer because I’m out of school so I’m less stressed, I get to work and I love my job, and I get to travel and see my family. This summer delivered on all counts!

Mom, Dad, uncle Dima, aunt Julia, cousin Jessica and Elizabeth (in the front)

Mom, Dad, uncle Dima, aunt Julia, Jessica and Elizabeth (in the front)

In June, my parents and I went to Pennsylvania. We were staying around the Pocono Mountains and Shawnee Valley area. My aunt, uncle and two cousins from New Jersey came to see us (and we went on a hiking trail), and we took a few side trips too. We went to Philadelphia (we’ve been before, but it was still cool) and an awesome sculpture park.

Jessica, and Alex with Liza on his shoulders :)

Jessica, and Alex with Liza on his shoulders 🙂

At the end of our trip we went to see their new house in New Jersey and my brother even joined us 🙂

At the end of June and into the beginning of July, we had our annual cottage week with our family friends. This year we were at Charleston lake.  Two of my best friends joined us for a few days, and my brother came by too.

The couples: Khaviches, Urievs, Ghazals - all relaxing by the lake

The couples: Khaviches, Urievs, Ghazals – all relaxing by the lake

I actually stayed in Ottawa for pretty much all of July but I got to spend lots of time with the best people. Two of my best friends were in Ottawa, and one of my other best friends came to spend a weekend with us. We shared a lot of laughs and became inseparable!

In August we went to Las Vegas and I got to celebrate my 22nd birthday there. People are often shocked to hear about my family going to Vegas so often because it’s known as Sin City but there’s plenty you can do there without getting into any trouble too. Like meeting up with family friends, seeing fantastic shows, eating amazing food and marvelling at the gorgeous (and extravagant) hotels!

This is indoors!

This is indoors!

Also indoors

An indoor waterfall

An indoor waterfall

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Seeing Terry Fator (AGT)!

Souvenir pictures from Pampas

Souvenir pictures from Pampas

I’m really grateful my parents value travelling. We’re able to see the world, experience culture and adventure, create memories and spend quality time together. Life won’t always be like this, so I’m happy for the time we have.

As soon as we got back from Las Vegas, Lindsey and I joined Justine at her family’s cottage on Belmont Lake, in Havelock, ON. The girls surprised me for my birthday with delicious cupcakes by the fire.

11866385_995967960455017_345829462079769578_nWe slept under the stars (literally took our sleeping bags and slept outside on the deck), went to Toronto to see a Blue Jay’s game (Lindsey’s and my first baseball game ever!) and laughed way too much. I always have such a good time with these women. 11850618_10155996787990714_37859395553056815_o
3296Romans

Our next trip was a combination trip, but my brother came with us for the whole thing! We drove to Washington, D.C. at night-time (easier for my dad, who’s used to working at night) but stopped in New Jersey to leave my dog with our family. My grandparents from Israel came to visit for a few weeks and were staying with my aunt and uncle. After a quick rest there, we drove on to the capital of the U.S.

My brother and I took a few tours together and went to Madame Tussaud’s wax museum (that has been on my bucket list for a very long time!) before joining my parents for the rest of our touring time. We went to an incredible spy museum, saw and heard so much, walked way too much and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!

With my brother and my mom in front of the White House

With my brother and my mom in front of the White House

After three and a half days in D.C. (we were actually staying in Alexandria, VA though) we joined the rest of our family for a reunion in Naples, NY. We had a great time relaxing at the cottage there, swimming in the pool, hiking along a river (and trying not to die as we jumped from slippery rock to slippery rock across fast-moving water!) and just generally enjoying some time to catch up with relatives from around the world.

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I’m so thankful for the time I got to spend with family and friends, the new places I got to see, the experiences I was able to have, and all the laughs and fun memories that will last forever. I’m so thankful for such a full and wonderful summer, for health and joy and peace, for the beauty of life.

And I need to hold onto these happy times as I’m heading into a scary time.

I’ve been taking swimming lessons this summer and tonight is my last one – so I’ll be tested to see if I’ve learned enough. I guess that’s not particularly scary. It’s actually been fun, even if a little embarrassing. But any kind of test is stressful.

Tomorrow though, I have my first day of classes in my last year of school. I’m looking at my schedule and some of my classes fill me with fear and dread. I feel like I’m doing this alone because my best friends aren’t at school with me.

I have to focus on the blessings in my life though, and praise God through all the storms I’ll face over the next eight months. I’m going in as a different person than I was last time around and I know I’ll come out changed again.

Whatever is coming, I’m glad I have the Lord guiding me through and the support of family and friends around me (even if they’re not going through it with me right now).

I hope that whatever kind of summer you’ve had, whatever is about to come around for you, any new jobs, locations, or a new stage in life, or maybe you feel stuck, remember that there is a time for everything.

I’ve just come out of a season of fun and freedom, of friends and family and I’m heading into a season of hard work and stress but through it all, I will praise the Lord! I hope.

God Bless!

(PS, check back, album links will be coming… hopefully. And yes, Ireland is still in the works.)

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Forty-One. August!

In my last blog, I left you with the promise of my last Belgian adventure!

I’ll keep it short because this keyboard is really annoying me and I do have some other important things to write about.

Basically, the guy who was helping me with my cellphone was really cute and we’d exchanged some flirtations throughout the year but as soon as I cancelled my service (which we both said was sad) I added five euros to my account (they moved me from a monthly service to a pay-as-you-go type service) and I sent him a little text complimenting him on his smile and thanking him for his friendliness. So uncharacteristic of me.

He replied.

We continued to flirt via text a little more but that was the end of that, I’ll likely never see him again.

But it was fun, and makes a cute story (especially if you know me at all, know any French [I still have our text messages saved on my phone] or like almost-love stories).

Moving on, my parents picked me up from Waterloo and we spent two days in Paris. Our first order of business when we got there though, was to throw out some of my stuff and sort out our bags! Let me tell you, moving somewhere and living there for ten months definitely means you’ll accumulate new things and wear out some other things!

And now I’m finally back in Canada – whether home or not – and the first thing I did, take driving lessons! That’s right, my G1 license will expire soon but we’d already paid for the exit test. But being a chicken, I never wanted to learn to drive (I just liked having an incredibly convenient piece of I.D.) and when I got back at the end of June, it was crunch time! I was so nervous, I didn’t even want to look at a car. I had zero experience (well, I tried to drive in a parking lot three times maybe, but I was awful at it) and my first time driving, on Thursday, June 2nd, actually wasn’t too bad.

Anyway, I have one lesson left and my driving test is on Friday, August 8th – ONE WEEK!

I have to say, I’m proud of myself. I didn’t think I could do it, I never thought I’d get to the point of being able to admit I could drive and I feel pretty confident for next week. I have to admit though, I wouldn’t have been able to do it without God who protected me and my friends and family who encouraged me. Every time, before I got into the car I would pray and pray and pray some more and every night and every morning as part of my prayer routine, I would pray for my driving too.

I’ll let you know how that goes 🙂

So why is this post called August when today is only the first of the month?

Because I have lots going on and I’m excited about it!

Now usually, I would be excited about working during the summer, but my timing didn’t work out this year, so I didn’t work and won’t get a chance to either. I arrived back in Canada at the end of June, after Canada Day I called work and they were excited to hear from me again, but I got no calls, so I actually walked in to work and I was greeted with hugs and questions and promises of shifts, but nada. It’s ok though, as boring as July might have been for me, August will be great!

As mentioned, I will have my driving test next week, and I will be devastated if I fail, but everyone, including me, is pretty confident I can do it 😀 That’s on the 8th.

On the 11th, we’re going to a cottage on Round Lake for a week (we get back on the 15th). This year, we’ll be spending my birthday there and it’s shaping up to be a bigger event than ever before!

On the 13th I turn 21!!! Obviously in the US this is a bigger deal, but it stills feels special and exciting to me.

On the 16th, we’re off again, this time driving to Cape Cod, MA. We’re meeting some old friends there and looking forward to enjoying a week exploring Massachusetts! [As a bonus, I’ll already be 21!]

On top of my own birthday, the OMF was born in August two  years before I was, so we’ll be celebrating as a congregation and this year, we have a special event planned that’s open for anyone to come and join!

Whew, ok, so that’s the stuff that you all might be interested in because they are events, with dates and there will be pictures and stories and they could somehow affect you…

But what else is going on in August? Well, I’ve decided I want to be more productive this month. Why this month? Because It’s a new month, it’s no longer July, I will turn 21 this month, and it was about time! [Also, August has 31 days, so it’s perfect for starting new things…]

I’ve been meaning to start reading my Bible more often. I mean daily. I wasn’t doing it often enough before and I really wanted to get into it. So today I started with Proverbs 1. [I’m doing that month-long reading plan where you read one chapter of Proverbs every day because 31.] I’m starting small to form a habit. I forget how long experts quote it takes to develop a habit, but hopefully 31 days will be a good start 🙂 [Just looked it up. Google says 21 days. Thanks internet!]

I won’t be writing about my readings every day because they are for me. Getting into God’s Word daily is personal, between me and my Father, but I can share that today I was reading about wisdom and knowledge. I opened my time with God in prayer and I asked that my spirit would be open to hearing something new from the Lord this morning.

I did.

It was simple, it was personal, but it related to the things that have been going on in my life recently and it was an amazing confirmation of God’s love and the fact that He does answer us! He is listening and He responds!

I want to encourage you to get into God’s Word more often too, and approach it, not as a chore, but as a blessing. Even if it starts out feeling like a chore, push through the laziness, push through the boredom and keep at it. If what the internet says is true, in three weeks it will be a habit and you will be blessed by what God has for you! I only just started today but I already feel better than I did yesterday.

God is good!

Anyway, I’m sure I have more I could tell you about, but I think I’ll stop there for now. As always, please feel free to ask me things, you can submit prayer requests if you want (there’s a special page for that), and I love reading comments too!

I hope each and every one of you is blessed today and everyday!

I love you! God loves you more!

– Rita

PS, I also love writing, so I’m definitely going to try to do that more often, I know I say that a lot, but now I have a goal to post two blogs per month and this doesn’t count as my second post for August. I don’t know if I’ll be able to post while we’re away, but I might write the blogs and just post them when we get back. Also, I hope you guys like my new picture. I worked on it for awhile until I was satisfied with it. That’s my own photo, the first time I was ever asked for my name in a Starbucks (in Paris!) and, more impressively, they actually got it right 🙂 Thank you, French language for making the t in Rita actually sound like a t and not a d.

PPS, I went to Belgium to “improve my French” but when I got there, people told me my French was perfect anyway, no one had any trouble understanding me at all (unless I used the wrong word and accidentally talked about condoms in food) and in fact, as with the other English-speakers I met while abroad, my command of spoken English has deteriorated. Hopefully I’ll make a full recovery soon!

OK, now bye for real!! ❤

Forty. Back from the dead.

I have really missed writing for the last two or three months… however long it’s been. Sorry.

A lot has happened…

Back in Belgium, I finished my exams. They were tough and there were tears… I did end up failing one class in second semester, which was really disappointing, so overall, I failed two courses this year. That’s not at all like me…

For anyone who knows me, they know I’m usually a very strong student. I’ve always had good grades. But the system in Belgium really caught me off-guard and was a lot harder than expected.

It’s not exactly set up to promote student success. Normally, in any given class there will be assignments, readings, homework, tests… something to have some kind of feedback from the teachers, something to indicate if you’re keeping up or not. But in Belgium, I sat in classes, listened to teachers lecture (many of whom didn’t use any kind of aids to make it easier for us to follow along) and at the end of the semester, I had one exam worth 100% of my final grade. Needless to say, I was struggling more than I, or anyone else, realized but it was too late to fix the problem.

All I can say is, thank God my report card has no effect on my admittance to Heaven!

Anyway, that’s enough about academic disappointment. I will add one anecdote though and maybe you will better understand why I haven’t been writing.

My hardest exam this semester was probably the one for political economy. I was up late studying as best I could with about 50 downloaded documents to work with. Often, when I’m cramming (which I know you’re not supposed to do – spare me the lecture) I forget about basic human needs. I sit in a room (not my bedroom) and I study non-stop, taking micro naps (2-3 minute session where I close my eyes and rest) and I rarely move. I forego eating and sleeping and even going to the bathroom as long as I can help it. But this time, I wasn’t studying alone. My roommate, knowing that I won’t feed myself, convinced me that taking a break to eat a little soup would be good for me. So I was prepared to go downstairs to feed my brain and body a little but she also suggested me relax a little and watch something silly. We didn’t/don’t have a TV kitchen, obviously, so we brought my laptop downstairs to watch something on Netflix…

Soup was spilled.

My computer immediately started misbehaving to the point where I couldn’t use it at all for the rest of the night…

I did not need that kind of stress at that moment, but thankfully one of my other roommates answered my panicked midnight phone call and let me use his laptop.

I still failed that exam.

To this day, my keyboard doesn’t work properly, double-typing many of my most-used keys so lengthy essays aren’t much fun right now.

Moving on.

So what else has happened?

I didn’t really get to go on any more trips because I need three things to travel: time, money and a partner. The first two, I would deal with on my own, but that third one, a partner, that’s a different need because that person (or people) also need time, money and willingness. I had one really close friend who was willing and had time, but money was a bit of an issue, I had another good friend who had time and money, but no desire. And of course, not to try to be funny or anything, but seriously, I had another friend with money and desire but no time 😦

So back in April I went to Ireland, the Netherlands, Israel, the UK (photos are not up yet) and those were my last international trips until my parents picked me up at the end of June. I did have a chance to go to Antwerp, another city in Belgium that came highly recommended.

May was basically all about exams, and then June was down time. My lovely friend and adoptive family put on an amazing wine and cheese as a last goodbye party.

Don't we all look classy at a wonderful wine & cheese party! Amazing food, excellent wine and even better company <3 A perfect way to celebrate a fantastic year abroad!

Don’t we all look classy at a wonderful wine & cheese party! Amazing food, excellent wine and even better company ❤
A perfect way to celebrate a fantastic year abroad!

I had a bunch of legal-type stuff to take care of, the reverse of everything I had to do back in September, but everything was fine. I had to give back my residence card, that was sad; and I had to declare taxes because I’d lived in Belgium so long… The man helping me with that didn’t really know what to do with me since I hadn’t worked at all, had nothing to declare and would actually be leaving before tax season was even over. But we figured it out and all was well.

We also had to work hard to clean the house from top to bottom to pass inspection and settle accounts and then the tears came as one by one we parted.

It’s so hard to live with someone for ten months (or five months in some cases), to form a close bond and friendship with them and then to say bye to them for an indeterminate amount of time… perhaps even forever. I don’t know when I’ll see my housemates again, and that makes me cry every time I think about it. I’m crying even now.

And then I decided to leave the house in Brussels a little early to spend two days in Waterloo with my adoptive family before my parents came to take me away from Belgium, to take me out of Europe and to bring me, as some would say, “home.”

In those last two or three days in Belgium, I did have one more funny adventure, this one through technology.

BUT, I will break this post up because this will get far too long otherwise.

You won’t have to wait long, I promise. I’ve already written part of it, I just cut it from the bottom of this one and I will post it right after this one, so you’ll read a second deluge of my thoughts in just a few minutes (or you might accidentally have read them before this post if you’re just scrolling down my homepage)

Thirty-Eight. Crushed: or, The Story of How I’m Completely Useless at Catching Oranges.

“Catching oranges” might not seem like a marketable skill to you, but after last Tuesday, I know it’s a good thing to be good at if you’re in Belgium.

…Also, I’m on a bus in Ireland.

Let’s start from before Tuesday though, because, chronology!

Since my last post I have come to the conclusion that my life is somewhat “back to normal,” however, it’s a new normal. I have my classes settled though, so at least that’s done. And the best thing about my schedule this semester is that I have no classes on Monday at all! This means I can go somewhere after class ends on Friday, so after 2pm (or 14h as they say here) and come back Tuesday morning because my class starts at 2pm 🙂 Hurray for more travelling!

So school has a way of surprising me. I’m taking three master’s level courses and two second year courses, but it seems like the second year courses are harder for me. Also, the class I thought I’d hate the most, is actually my favorite class right now.

So anyway, school is school… it’s going. And that’s enough about that.

Travelling is way more exciting than school right?!?!

I do have some exciting plans. I’m currently in Ireland until the 11th, and I have at least two set plans for April. From the 8th to the 15th, I’ll be in Israel and from the 18th to the 22nd I’ll be in London!

…So where do the oranges come in? I’m getting there!

March 2nd, 3rd, and 4th I went to three different carnivals around Belgium. On Sunday, we went to Villers-la-Ville. There’s a really cute abbey in ruins there, but the day’s attraction was the carnival/festival/fair/parade… thing they had going on. It was very small, with only about five floats, but it was still really nice. It felt very “small-town” and intimate.

They had games and rides and fair fare which were actually fun, and the people in the parade were incredibly friendly. They included the random tourists and onlookers in their dances and showered people in confetti. Other people who presumably live in Villers-la-Ville, also had a lot of confetti, and silly string, and were not shy about throwing handfuls of the colorful bits of paper at strangers. It was a lot of fun though – even when I got confetti-bombed.

Everyone, or almost everyone, was dressed-up in fun costumes too, and it was really cute to see the little kids running around as pirates, football players or animals.

Then on Monday we went to another city called Alost. We knew it would be a bigger affair, but we still weren’t sure what to expect. As it turned out, there was a huge parade, and when I say huge, I mean literally over 100 floats/costumed groups proceeding through the city, blasting music, dancing, handing out candy, etc! It was so different from the first day and it was also a ton of fun. It was the kind of thing we wouldn’t see in Canada. Many of the floats were racist or risqué. They made fun of politicians, royalty, religion, some racial groups, things in popular culture, you name it! In around three hours, I took nearly 800 photos!

They had people walking around who could “take your place” who actually came around and tried to pull onlookers into the parade while standing next to their friends for pictures. They had people handing out candy, others were throwing it, they had people handing out champagne (unfortunately they ran out before they got to me), they had people coming around with stickers, …it was a really big deal! People were still dressed in costumes, and while the confetti and silly string were available, nothing was thrown at me this time. There was also a lot of cross-dressing, not as a means of self-expression or identity as it would be in Canada, but more so, just for the sake of dressing up, being silly and having fun… because why not?!?! More than anything though, I think there was a lot of drinking. Every float had cases and cases of beer hidden – usually not very well – behind curtains so that the paraders walking around with the float would always have a supply… A very different, but still excellent day!

Finally, Tuesday. Mardi Gras.

Well, you might have heard of the “Carnaval de Binche” and if not, that’s ok, I hadn’t either, but ten years ago it was recognized by the UNESCO group as a cultural event. Many people in Brussels, and perhaps other cities in Belgium as well, had the day off and some chose to go to Binche to experience the orange chucking festival. Other then that one thing (the throwing of oranges) I had no idea what to expect.

Honestly, it’s nothing more than that! There are people dressed in traditional “gilles” costumes and various groups of people in other costumes as well walking/dancing through the streets of Binche with oranges (often blood oranges) in baskets, throwing them into gigantic crowds of people. Many oranges reach their targets but many others splatter against wall, get squished on the ground, shatter windows, or hit innocent bystanders and sometimes even leave bruises.

It might not sound that cool, but you really can’t imagine how much fun the whole event is without being there! It’s actually very worth it 🙂

It was very different from the two previous days I’d experienced, but it was just as excellent. And I got a bunch of oranges out of it.

I also left with many fun memories. First, my friends and I went to a restaurant for lunch. it was absolutely delicious! The place was also packed, and we were sitting at a table with another couple. We were mostly speaking English between the three of us, but we did say some things in French and this piqued other patrons’ interest. By the end of our meal, the whole restaurant knew we were Canadians.

Anyway, back to the couple at our table. They were actually very friendly and helpful towards us. They helped us with the menu, with the ordering and with communicating to the busy staff in general. Then we got to talking about our lives and we all shared a bit about who we were. It was so casual and comfortable we felt like we’d made new friends. They even said they’d be interested in coming to Canada! By the end of our time there, we had their contact information and they wished us a good carnival.

Then we made our way into the crowds lining the streets in anticipation of the orange throwing. We eventually settled into a spot with a family of four to our left, a family of three to our right and a tall man in front of me. The tall man was actually quite in the way, blocking my direct view ahead, so I had to lean left and right a lot to see anything. When the paraders finally did start throwing oranges into the crowds, they could barely see me! Some handed the daughter of left-side family oranges, so the mom handed me a few out of pity.

I couldn’t catch anything!

Between families with kids and friends taking part in the orange chucking who came up to them to say hi and conveniently pass them extra oranges, and Mr. Too-Tall blocking me in front, plus my general non-sportiness and short stature (although I’m of average height for a Canadian woman), I literally caught no oranges all day. Eventually my friend gave me his cowboy hat to try to help me… We definitely attracted more orange tosses, but I still caught nothing. The family to our left actually felt bad for me.

It was super fun though nonetheless, and my friends agreed to share our orange haul between the three of us (I did help by picking up a few oranges and being pathetic enough to have some given to me) and my friend even gave me his awesome cowboy hat!

The crushing comes in because on our way back to the train station we passed by a few potholes on the roads, as well as the general road surfaces, that were filled with crushed costume parts, crushed cans, crushed oranges and soggy confetti – I would describe it as crushed confetti, but it’s kind of hard to crush a small piece of flat paper… so they were more, “just stepped on.” It looked like a battleground. A rather happy-looking battleground though, due to all the colors.

So, all-in-all, I really enjoyed the festivities! ***PICTURES TO COME LATER, SORRY***

Thirty-Seven. Challenges.

Recently, a friend emailed me and asked what God’s been teaching me while I’m in Belgium. I was a little worried because I thought I would have to write “nothing” but I didn’t want to give that as an answer.

Before I could even consider responding to him, I had about fifty other emails to send out because I’ve entered a time of sheer lunacy at school.

As an exchange student, the first 2-4 weeks of the new semester are very crazy. They say there’s lots of help available, but in reality, no one really wants to help you.

You’re left floundering in a sea of confusion, trying desperately to choose courses that satisfy the host school’s rules and also satisfy your home school’s program requirements. You also have to consider the amount of credits, the level of study, the language barrier, the pre-reqs, etc… It’s all such a headache.

On top of that there are other things going on in life too and it can quickly feel overwhelming.

If you’re someone like me, you’re used to having it all together, having all the answers and people relying on you for information and support.

You can’t really support others when you feel like you’re lost and drowning yourself.

But in the midst of all that, God is good! He is always good!

That’s what God’s been teaching me – “Rely on me; Trust in me; Lay your burdens down at my feet; Take rest in me, take courage, take heart. I AM your peace. I AM in control.”

It’s an incredible reminder that the Creator loves me despite or in spite of my failings, short-comings and imperfections.

I don’t always have to have it all together because He does. And sometimes us perfectionists really need a good kick in the bum to remind us that we’re human and imperfect.

No matter what happens with school, or work, or our social lives, God is sovereign, He is love and we don’t need to worry.

I want to encourage you that no matter what ridiculousness you find yourself stranded in, God knows exactly where you are, what you need and He knows the outcome too. He loves you and He wants you to lean on Him.

In other news,  this is one of my shortest posts ever I think. But more importantly, I spent two days in England last weekend. It was my very first time in the UK and it was very exciting!

And recently I’ve come to realize how common it is to have to dodge dog poo on the streets. It’s a daily struggle really… but it’s even worse when you’re trying to get home but have to consciously avoid large piles of dog poo, trees, construction and traffic… It’s actually quite terrifying. And very dangerous.

I also almost stepped in vomit on my way to school… But thank you, drunk person for, at the very least, taking a bus…

Thirty-Six. Preparation.

Sometimes when life happens, you end up writing about unexpected things.

That’s what I’m doing now, because as I mentioned in my last blog, I had an idea for this post. I’m not writing that idea now though, because I need to write about my last trip to remind myself not to do what I did – or rather didn’t do – next time.

This will probably be a shorter post than usual, but hopefully you’ll enjoy my story of silliness.

…and, contrary to the title, non-preparation.

I went on a day trip with my friend to another city in Belgium, Ghent. Our plans had changed a couple of times in the few days leading up to our outing, but it still wasn’t a surprise that we would be going to a beautiful, new place with nothing but time and a desire for adventure.

Whenever you go somewhere, there are certain things you make sure you have. I mentioned this when I wrote about packing to move for ten months, but sometimes you can be super organized and seem well-prepared but there might still be something you forget. Sometimes it’s not something very important, like when I forgot my microfiber cloth to clean my computer screen, but sometimes it just might be the most important thing… or things.

I was picked up on Monday evening so we could leave together early Tuesday morning. I packed some clothes, my toiletries, and grabbed my purse.

I hadn’t checked the updated weather report, and I didn’t double-check my purse to make sure I had the things I really needed with me, so when we got to Ghent, my friend and I realized we didn’t have cameras. In this day and age, most phones have a camera function, so we thought, even if they won’t be good quality, at least we’ll capture some memories from our trip…

Well, within minutes of stepping off the train, we both checked out phones and found out they were holding on to dear life by their very last battery juices. Both our phones were about to die and we needed to save at least one to make a phone call to get picked up.

So, we had no cameras, no phones for communication, no way to tell time (because we depend on our phones for that), no maps, no solid plans and we can’t read Dutch so the signs were rather unhelpful to us. It was also very, very cold and we didn’t have enough to wear.

Ghent is beautiful, but you’ll have to take my word for it because I can’t share an album with you. Sorry. We’ll have to go back one day and when that happens, we’ll be better prepared and there will be a lovely album to go along with it 🙂

As for us, I think we’re going to remember to prepare better for next time.

Preparation is a wonderful thing that I used to be good at. In fact, I was over-prepared and had what many called a “mommy purse” because I packed for all kinds of different possible situations that can come up unexpectedly.

We had a wonderful time anyway, but it could have been better.

Anyway, please forgive my lack of pictures (I did buy postcards) and learn from my mistakes – make sure you check the weather, charge your phone and PACK YOUR CAMERA!!! I feel silly.

God Bless you all, have wonderful moments, days, weeks, months and years 🙂 Love you!

Thirty-Four. Updates.

Well that plan failed. I had every intention of writing another blog post last month, I had an idea and everything, but life sometimes has a way of getting out of hand. I feel like I’m busy without being particularly busy… That didn’t make any sense.

Anyway, I’m sorry for the lack of posts, I’m sure you would love to read about my adventures here in Brussels.

For the most part, I find life is similar to life back home… on a general level. You know, you wake up (often before the sun comes up) and get ready for work or school, do what you do there and come home. There’s eating in between, wasting some time on the internet maybe and you have your hobbies. Or you have homework. Or maybe a report for work or something.

Some people have sports or special lessons a few nights per week.

Some people have date nights.

I didn’t have any of that back home, and I still don’t here. But I also don’t have as many demands on my time. So on a personal level, I’m much more relaxed here.

Back in Canada I had a lot of work to do for school and, being in Journalism, a lot of running around chasing stories. Here, I’m not studying Journalism so there’s none of that. They also evaluate very differently here, so the workload is different. Instead of tests and assignments throughout the year, most of my grades will be based 100% on the final exam. That’s very scary and I’m not a fan of this system.

For one course, we had a small bibliography assignment, a slightly larger but still small writing assignment based on the bibliography (due next week) and a final, oral exam. For my MA level course we have two written assignments (30% and 60%) as well as 10% participation.

But my other three classes all have one final exam. My grammar course exam will only have one question on it. (And two hours to answer that question.)

So in terms of homework throughout the year, I haven’t had any except reading.

I don’t have any job(s) while I’m here which is a nice break from the three jobs I had last year. Between supplying, tutoring and caring for kids on Wednesday mornings, I was busy. I also had a volunteer commitment every week having to prepare the slide show for church, and once a month preparing the bulletins.

It might not look like all that much really, but it certainly felt like it and, to be honest, I was kind of happy to have the opportunity to drop everything and get away. I felt really worn out.

Now I feel like I’m having fun because I get to spend time with friends (usually the guys I live with) and I get to relax and enjoy my time doing things that I like doing, like reading or writing or watching shows/movies.

And somehow, despite all this free time I supposedly have, I haven’t been travelling as much as I’d like (admittedly, I travel way more than the average person, but it’s less than I had envisioned for myself before I actually got here), and I definitely haven’t been writing as I thought I would.

In my mind, I’d have crazy stories to share on this blog, and I so wanted to write for the French department at Carleton, but for some reason, things didn’t go quite as I had planned. Sometimes it’s because I like the guys too much and spend a lot of time with them, sometimes it’s because I made other friends and want to go out with them and often I’ve found that I just can’t sit still long enough to write out coherent thoughts worth writing and sharing.

So I’m sorry.

But, now that I’m procrastinating from those writing assignments, I feel like putting out a little update on my life.

November 29th – December 1st/2nd, I was in Stockholm, Sweden for a friend’s birthday. What an amazing experience! Seriously, go up North sometime; visit a Scandinavian country! It was so beautiful. It was cold, yes, but so worth it!

My fingers were cold and it got too dark too quickly, so I couldn’t take as many photos as I normally would (only about 315 for three days) but here’s a small album with pictures of me and my friends: Tony’s Birthday in Stockholm; and here’s a much bigger album with pictures of the city, the harbor, the Christmas decorations, the buildings, the scenery: Stockholm.

It was really an incredible experience and there were so many memorable moments for us. The most important thing about travelling is who you’re with. That way, if something bad happens, there’s someone else there to make it easier to deal with, and if something good happens, there’s someone there to share it with. There were so many laughs throughout the weekend and no picture will ever be able to capture how much fun we had together.

Last week, I also had the chance to go with some students for a small unofficial tour of Brussels, but not just Grand Place where everyone seems to go. (For the record, we walked through it, but we didn’t really stop there at all except to gether the group together again.) We saw some beautiful places on our route, the Grand Sablon, the Petit Sablon, a big Synagogue, a beautiful church, and lots of lovely Christmas lights. It wasn’t quite as decorated as Stockholm was, but it was nice. We ended up in the Christmas market at Sainte-Catherine.

Here’s a small album from our walk: Christmastime in Brussels. It’s not very good because my camera really doesn’t like taking pictures in the evening, but there it is.

Now, we have one week left of classes for the semester so everyone’s working on final projects/assignments and preparing for exams in January. People are also really excited to go home for the holidays.

Originally, because of strange and complicated flights/connections/plans, I was supposed to leave Brussels on Dec. 26th to fly back to Canada via Paris and Philadelphia. Instead, now, I’ve booked myself a train ticket to go to Paris a couple of days early. I’ll be there for Dec. 24th and 25th and I’ll still be going home on the 26th.

It’ll be a challenge for me to travel alone because as much as I love travelling, and as much as I love Paris, I love people more. I like doing things with friends, I like talking and laughing and sharing moments with others. Alone, you can’t really do that so much… All my pictures will be selfies and those are never as good as pictures with friends and I won’t have any input as to what others want to do. I’ll be wandering the streets and getting lost all on my own.

As nervous as I am, I’m also kind of excited for what possibilities there will be for me. Sure, there’s potential for loneliness, but maybe I’ll feel more confident and independent and I’ll end up meeting some wonderful people! Who knows?

Anyway, I think that’s about it for now. I do have a new project I’m working on, but it’s a secret. The only reason I’m mentioning it is because it might take away from writing here. But considering I haven’t been writing regularly anyway, maybe you guys wouldn’t even have noticed.

We’ll just have to see where life takes me.

God Bless you all!

See you soon, Canada!

Thirty-Three. Travels.

I haven’t written an actual post in a long time… Hope you’ve been enjoying my pictures though 🙂

Well, obviously I’ve been doing a little travelling. Trips to Brussels might not seem that interesting since I do technically live here, but the center is very different from the commune where I live. Plus it’s always nice to get out with a new friend.

Getting out with old friends is wonderful too. Even if it doesn’t seem like the best idea (going into a haunted house) or it means you have to sacrifice something (it was expensive), making memories and enjoying life are really great activities and always worth it. Halloween isn’t my favorite holiday, but I do love spending time with friends 🙂

Getting out of the country is my favorite kind of travelling here though, that’s for sure! One thing I was incredibly excited for was the closeness of everything in Europe. Coming here, I knew I would want to take advantage of travel opportunities to go to places many people don’t really think of going. I’ve never heard of someone planning a week-long vacation to Luxembourg, or even mentioning it when they list European countries. We always hear about France, Germany, Spain, Italy, England… and they’re awesome, but when someone can say, “I’ve been to Liechtenstein,” that seems much cooler. *I do hope to get there this trip because of the movie A Knight’s Tale*

I’m also incredibly blessed to have friends here who also love travelling and have a car. It’s really nice to explore together.

This weekend I had a really big, awesome opportunity to go somewhere I’ve never been before and have wanted to visit for a long time; Berlin, Germany.

There’s an organization for exchange students like me, (we’re called Erasmus students) and they frequently organize big trips, pub nights, parties, get-togethers, activities, etc. I hadn’t been able to participate before this trip for various reasons, but when I heard about the trip to Berlin, I got really excited because the price was good, the timing worked and it would be my best chance to get there.

The problem: I hate travelling alone and it’s hard to make friends in university.

I  do have a friend here from Canada, but she’s currently stuck in Italy because she got really sick and had to have surgery so she wouldn’t be able to come with me. She’s also here with her boyfriend who’s not an Erasmus student and therefore wouldn’t be able to go on Erasmus student trips. So the one person I’d have wanted to go with, couldn’t come… I hesitated so much about this trip because of that.

I realized there would be other Erasmus students on the trip (there were over 60 of us) but most of them have their own groups of friends and wouldn’t necessarily want to hang out with me for the whole weekend.

Luckily another girl was in the same situation as me and we just happen to both be Canadian (she’s from Quebec) and we hit it off! So I wasn’t alone and it was a wonderful trip because of that 🙂 I really thank God for her actually because it would have been a lonely weekend without her.

Other than making a new friend, seeing Berlin was amazing. It might not be the most beautiful European city (I have to be honest here) but it is so steeped in history that I still enjoyed every moment. It was cold and windy, but seeing the Berlin Wall, seeing Checkpoint Charlie, seeing a Stasi prison (Hohenschönhausen), exploring “bunkers” and hearing about the things that went on in the city was so awesome.

There are really incredible tours to take in Berlin and if we’d had more time, we absolutely could have gone on more of them and learned so much!

If you ever have the chance to go to Berlin, DO IT! I really can’t get over the amazing things we saw and learned there.

This is kind of a funny story… The other reason I wanted to go to Berlin is actually because of the show The Amazing Race. If you don’t know what that is, it’s a reality show where couples start from the US and go to various countries all over the world completing tasks and challenges along the way. A few seasons ago they went to Berlin and one task they had was to find a particular nightclub and find their next clue in the labyrinth inside.

I wanted to find that labyrinth too!

From what we saw in the episode, it’s a very psychedelic experience. One of the racers described it as a sort of pseudo drug experience. There are crazy flickering, flashing lights all over, the rooms are not uniform at all, you don’t only choose between left, right or straight, but also up or down and the whole thing just seemed like a very cool, once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing.

I was so excited to do it.

So I asked my friend if she wanted to go too, she agreed and we went off on our first evening to try and find this place. I remembered that in the episode the racers had a hard time finding it, but I had the name, I had the address and I even had exact instructions on how to get there, so I didn’t think it would be hard for us.

I was wrong.

It was hard to find.

No one seems to know where anything else is in Berlin because more than once we asked for directions and usually people had no idea. I even asked in German, and I was understood but they just had no idea… “Entschuldigen Sie bitte, wo ist Kynaststrasse?”

The other problem is construction. There was way too much construction all over the place and the maps we had were not matching up with the reality of the roads.

Eventually we made it.

But, even after all the trouble we went through to get there, they have a limited number of spots for people to get into the maze so we weren’t able to go in. The bar itself is weird inside too but they have a big sign on the door that says we’re not allowed to take any pictures. I only got one dark picture of the sign outside.

Anyway, it was an incredible weekend, but I was very excited to get home to see the boys again. [I really do love these guys.]

Originally, the plan was that driving (in a coach bus) from Brussels to Berlin would take about 8 hours. According to Google Maps, that’s reasonable since just driving is 7 hours and we’d probably need to stop at least once. (It was a night drive, so we were expected to sleep most of the way.)

We realized the trip took closer to 10 hours so the people in charge adjusted our departure time to reflect that. We wanted to get home on Monday night at a reasonable hour to ensure everyone could still take public transportation home and sleep enough before class the next day. The ETA was 11 pm.

Since I’m talking about this, I’m sure you’ve all realized that didn’t happen…

We were stuck in traffic. Where traffic in Germany comes from, I have no idea… You’d never expect to stop on the autobahn. But we sat still for probably 5 hours. We got back to ULB after 3 in the morning (on Tuesday) so public transportation was done.

I live close to the school, but I was tired, and cold, and hungry and I had heavy bags with me… I was not looking forward to that 20-minute walk.

It also didn’t help that I had back to back classes in the morning from 8-12 and another class from 2-4 afterwards. It didn’t make sense to try to sleep for real Monday night so I napped for about an hour. I was so tired.

After my classes were done, the smart thing to do would have been to have an early night but the guys and I had been preparing for a raclette dinner for a long time and we finally had it. Plus, I brought back some German wine as a gift for the house and since I’d been away for a long time, we thought it would be wonderful to celebrate and have a fun evening together.

Dinner was amazing and my first raclette experience was a wonderful success (I say wonderful a lot… we need more words in English). We also decided to watch a movie (The Book of Eli) and finally, after over 40 hours of not sleeping, I fell asleep in my own bed and had one of the best sleeps I’ve ever had in my life. I woke up feeling full of life and happiness. I felt good, I looked good (at least I felt like I looked good – my hair was cooperating) and it was finally warm and sunny!

Then I got to class 😦

Anyway, all this to tell you that everything’s going really well over here. I love my life through ups and downs. I feel so incredibly blessed to be here, to experience everything I’ve been experiencing and just to know that I have this awesome opportunity to travel and meet people and live! I’m so thankful to be here and I do miss the people back home but I know I’m loved so thank you for all the prayers and support 🙂

God Bless you all!

I will write again pretty soon… or at least, I’ll try.

Trip to Berlin

Trip to Berlin

I went to Berlin, Germany this weekend with other Erasmus students. Such an amazing experience – so much history and it was really awesome to be there. I feel really blessed by all I’ve been able to experience!

Luxembourg

Luxembourg

Went on a day-trip to Luxembourg! Went to Luxembourg City, explored some casemates and got free hugs; went to Echternacht and saw Beaufort Castle; stopped along a road in the forest to explore some other ruins; went to Vianden, saw a gorgeous castle lit up at night and ate an incredible dinner in the most hippo-filled restaurant ever! The waitress said she had 1,800 of them! What a wonderful weekend 🙂 God really made this world beautiful and to have the opportunity to explore and appreciate it was wonderful ❤